Celebrity | Royals

Love, Loss, And Awful Luck - Princess Diana's Tragic Final Days

Backgrid / Rex

With the lifetime of memories, famous looks, and inspiring moments she left behind, it can be hard to believe that Princess Diana was just 36 years old when she died.

Following an ugly, highly publicized divorce from Prince Charles, Diana's final year was a time when she tried to reinvent herself, putting love and happiness first.

And the details of her final days reveal how Diana almost avoided her tragic fate.

Her Final Months

Princess Diana
Diana in Angola, January 1997.Reuters

Diana, as always, spent most of her time attending events for the many charities she supported, including the National AIDS Trust and the HALO Trust for landmine removal.

In her personal time, Diana was seeing her longtime boyfriend, surgeon Hasnat Khan, or "Mr. Wonderful," as she called him.

Princess Diana
Dr, Hasnat Khan.Propr

Diana's close friends, including Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan, say the doctor's relationship with Diana was more than a fling.

"She had been involved with him for two years and she had wanted to marry him," Imran revealed in Diana: Her Last Love.

"It was clear that she was very deeply in love with Dr. Hasnat and I just don't think she could have got over it that quickly."

Princess Diana Hasnat Khan
Merlin Archive

It's still unclear why Diana and Khan finally split up. He later claimed she was hiding another romance from him, while Diana's friends tell a different story.

They say Diana urged the press-shy Khan to go public with their relationship, and broke up when he refused.

Princess Diana Hillary Clinton

Newly single, Diana toured the world meeting dignitaries and celebrities, including then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and Mother Theresa.

She even appeared on the July cover of Vanity Fair. In the issue, Diana posed, for what would become her last official portraits ever, and spoke openly about rebuilding her life after divorce.

Her Final Weeks

Princess Diana
Vanity Fair

Even before her death, Diana's famously stylish wardrobe was a global phenomenon.

At a New York auction in her final summer, 80 of Diana's dresses sold for more than $3.2 million, all of which went to her charities.

The night's hot ticket item was her Travolta dress, which she wore during her famous White House dance with the actor. It sold for $222,500.

Princess Diana
Hello! Magazine

Diana marked her final birthday on July 1, 1997, while attending an event at the Tate Modern gallery.

Prince Harry and a group of his school friends called Diana that night, and sang "Happy Birthday" to her.

Diana Princess
Hello! Magazine

Both Harry and Prince William - 12 and 15 respectively in 1997 - would join Diana on a holiday to St. Tropez, France that month.

Diana and the boys stayed at the mansion of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed, which is where Diana met her last serious boyfriend, Mohamed's son Dodi.

What Fayed didn't reveal to his new lover is that he was already engaged to American model Kelly Fisher.

Princess Diana
Dodi Fayed was Diana's last love interest.Rex

As the summer wore on, Diana and Fayed passed the time on his 200-foot private yacht, Jonikal, cruising the Mediterranean and the Italian Riviera.

Debbie Gribble, who worked as a steward on the yacht, remembered how Diana's happiness shrank as the paparazzi caught up with them:

"She was a totally different person [in public and private]. I didn't get the sense that she was on edge at any time. I got the sense she was just enjoying this freedom, being in the moment and actually living," Gribble said.

Diana Dodi
Woman Magazine

When photographers began following the yacht with helicopters, "that feeling of freedom was gone and suddenly she was back in a gilded floating cage. You could see the magic was just dwindling day by day."

Her Final Night

On the night of August 28th, 1997, Diana toasted the first anniversary of her divorce from Charles with champagne on Jonikal.

No longer enjoying the trip, Diana wanted to return home and see her sons, but Fayed convinced her to spend a night in Paris, and they flew there together, arriving at the Ritz Paris hotel (owned by Fayed's father) on August 30th.

Diana on the Ritz Hotel's security footage.Press Association

While Diana had her hair styled at the Ritz, Fayed visited a nearby jeweler and purchased a gold and diamond ring.

Fayed would later claim the ring was an engagement ring for Diana. But in 2013, a friend of Diana's revealed that the princess told her any ring from her new beau would go "firmly on my right hand."

Princess Diana ring
A replica of Dodi's engagement ring.The Daily Mail

Sometime that day, Diana called Balmoral Castle to speak with Harry and William, who were staying with Prince Charles. Both the princes remember the call vividly - it was the last time they would speak to their mother.

Harry said he regretted "for the rest of my life, how short the phone call was. And if I'd known that was the last time I'd speak to my mother, the things I would have said to her. ... Looking back on it now, it is incredibly hard."

"If I'd known what would happen," added William, "I wouldn't have been so blas´┐Ż about it. But that phone call sticks in my mind quite heavily."

Princess Diana
Diana leaves the Ritz for her fatal car trip.Standard

Diana and Fayed moved to one of his family's Paris apartments, and planned to eat dinner at one of the city's fine restaurants.

But bodyguard Kes Wingfield remembers how mobs of cameramen drove the couple back to the Ritz:

"As soon as their car moved off, the paps behaved like real devils," he said.

"They called for their bikes and sped off like fools, trying to stick to the car. They could have knocked over pedestrians. People flattened themselves against walls as their bikes mounted the pavements and sped past."

The couple ordered dinner in the hotel restaurant, then ate it in their rooms, not realizing that it would be their last meal.

Her Final Hours

Shortly after midnight, the Diana and Fayed were ready to leave the hotel for his apartment.

Princess Diana
Driver Henri Paul and security guard Trevor Rees-Jones, the only survivor. Diana can be seen in the back seat.Mundiario

Dodi was the one who reportedly came up with a plan to distract the press with decoy limousines, while he and Diana escaped in a Mercedes-Benz parked by the Ritz's back door.

The stunt meant that, instead of a trained chauffeur, the hotel's head of security, Henri Paul, was behind the wheel of the Benz.

Paul was later found to have a blood alcohol content more than three times higher than France's legal limit.

Princess Diana.
The Benz crashed shortly after leaving the hotel.Newswire

Paul raced away from the hotel to try and lose paparazzi, eventually slamming head-on into a concrete pillar in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel.

The Benz was likely driving at least 60 miles an hour when it struck the pillar.

The fourth passenger, security guard Trevor Rees-Jones, was the only passenger wearing a seat belt and the crash's only survivor.

Bystanders, including a doctor, rushed to help the passengers before police and later firefighters arrived.

Firefighter Xavier Gourmelon claims he heard Diana's last words.ITV

A firefighter claims that Diana's last words - said as she was pulled from the ruined vehicle - were, "Oh my God, what is happening?"

Diana was removed from the car around 1 a.m., and then went into cardiac arrest.

She was quickly treated by EMTs in an ambulance. Unlike in America, French emergency workers don't rush to the hospital after loading a patient in the ambulance.

Princess Diana
The ambulance at the scene of Diana's crash.Sky News

Instead, Diana was stabilized at the scene, then driven toward the hospital. She suffered cardiac arrest again en route, and the ambulance was stopped to give her CPR.

Because of damage to her chest, Diana was rushed into early morning surgery, but was pronounced dead at 4 a.m.

While it was much too soon, Diana's incredible legacy is carried on by her children, and through the lasting changes she made to the royal family.

Do you remember the day of Prince Diana's tragic crash?

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[H/T: USA Today, ABC, Reader's Digest]

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